Comedy sketch writing isn’t all that funny

  • Written by Claudia Parker

Claudia Mug Shot-ColorChasing a dream to earn a sustainable income as a writer is proving to be a hard-knock life for me. Failure is trying to suppress my writing aspirations.
Recently, I cranked open my Toshiba laptop to find an e-mail from the writing program coordinator at Second City. “Thank you for your interest in Writing 5. Unfortunately, your submitted scene didn’t qualify for you to continue at this time.”
For the previous eight months, my cheeks have been in Second City’s seats learning to write sketch comedy. There are six, eight-week terms in the program.
I completed four.
To gain entry to Writing 5, a sketch scene audition is a prerequisite to ensure ones work is worthy of such an advancement. Of 12 classmates, I’m one of three that didn’t make it through.
“What?!” I thought. “I’m a professional writer! How does that happen?”
The e-mail continued: “This doesn’t mean you aren’t a great writer.”
Crossing my arms I mumbledpage-12-with-Claudia-colClaudia Parker, front row, right, poses with a group of comedy sketch writing hopefuls at Second City. Most of her peers will move up a level while Parker was rejected but said that rejection will sharpen her determination to get better. Submitted photo.

submitted   “You’re darn Skippy it doesn’t.”
I read further. 
  “...just that you may need more work on the principles of scenic sketch.” said the program coordinator.
My emotions dipped back to a time when my husband Don and I took our daughters Donae (7) and Rhonda-Rene (4) to Grand Geneva’s Timber Ridge Lodge and Waterpark up in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.
At the time, Rhonda-Rene was only two and just getting acclimated to exploring water independently. Forcing the natural progression of her comfort level, I placed her at the top of the toddler slide and scurried over to the bottom to catch her.
Most enthused, I petitioned her to slide down.
“Come to Mommy! Rhonda-Rene! Come?” I suspect, from her vantage point, plummeting into cold water didn’t look appealing.
Ignoring my lure, she abruptly scooched backward and tumbled headfirst down the stairs of the slide.
The stairs were softly padded, as was the toddler surface where she landed.
Nonetheless, a concerned lifeguard escorted us into a warm, towel-filled back room.
He proceeded to examine Rhonda-Rene and completed an incident report. She hadn’t sustained any injuries and didn’t cry but a minute. Yet, I stalled to leave that room. I wear the badge of stay-at-home mom with honor. I take great pride in caring for my family. I didn’t want to face the people who saw me fail to protect my child.
Likewise, I’m a passionate writer. I exercise at this craft like a fitness guru does their body.
Failing to advance to Writing 5 was not only disappointing but embarrassing. I wanted to go find that warm, towel-filled room and not come out. But, there’s a danger in that line of thinking.
When entertained long enough, feelings of failure morph into fear. I don’t believe we fail because we’re supposed to quit. I believe we fail when we need to grow. Those who quit shut off their creative energy stunting their expression of joy that only shines through when it’s shared with the world.
When we stop operating in the purpose of which we were created out of fear, we can become unfulfilled, miserable people.
Failure is not an option for me, I will press forward elsewhere!
But, first, I felt I needed the specifics from the folks at Second City. I wrote a small note to the head of their writing program asking for a detailed explanation for why my scene failed. For peace of mind, I needed to know how far I was off the mark. Turns out, it wasn’t a near miss -- it was more like a WIDE gap.
I responded as such, “I appreciate the raw feedback. I’m going to be honest, I never desired to write comedy. I just wanted to learn how to write for the stage and ultimately film. I came to Second City because of its reputation as being one of the best training centers in the business. Thank you for giving me a playwright foundation. However, for what I need to fulfill my personal endeavors, I think its best I seek my training in an institution not comedy specific.”
As a writer, this experience will sharpen my determination. As a mom, it will become a priceless teaching tool for my little girls down the road. Our kids only listen to us for so long.
After that, they model us. It’s easy to show our children how to celebrate success, but don’t forget to show them how to celebrate opportunities to grow.
In failure, there is growth, for the plants that thirst for watering. And that, I do!

Juicy and frantic memories of Harpo Studios

  • Written by Jeff Vorva


Claudia Mug Shot-Color


Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Studios closed their doors after 26 years in the Windy City.

Oprah and her executive staff are taking permanent residence in her OWN network headquarters, located in West Hollywood’s The Lot.

            I’ve sat in the audience at Harpo Studios many times. Some tapings were more memorable then others.

            For example, you may or may not know, President Thomas Jefferson, allegedly, fathered children with his bi-racial slave, Sally Hemings. Well, during this taping, Oprah arranged for some of Jefferson’s decedents to meet a few of their alleged, black family members.

It got juicy! 

            On a different day, I had myself a little speaking-on-camera action during a taping about workplace stress. I’d just gotten braces. I remember totally over-enunciating my words to avoid speaking with a lisp.

            The most awkward taping I attended was when Dr. Phil appeared promoting his book, “Relationship Rescue.” He had the audacity to go on this rant about how men in their 20s shouldn’t marry until their 30s because they haven’t discovered themselves yet. Well, I happened to be with my soon-to-be husband Don, and my not-yet mother-in-law, whom loudly applauded Dr. Phil’s suggestion. For a single woman hoping to seal the deal with her, then in-his-20’s man – it was not good!

            My vote for most disturbing was definitely the taping where Oscar Winner Mo’Nique’s, older brother spoke about molesting her. Don and I were ready to hightail it home to our kids. “If you can’t trust family, who can you trust?” I thought. 

            The last time I entered Harpo studios was for Oprah’s LifeClass, April 30, 2014. I’d only learned of the opportunity for last-minute seats the day before. By some miracle, I was able to secure childcare on short notice. However, getting to Harpo that morning proved strenuous. Rain and rush-hour makes a slow commute. Couple that with not being able to find parking and you’ve got panic. I literally sprinted, in the rain, wearing high-heel boots, a half mile from where I parked, barely making it to the studio before they stopped allowing entry.        

            In previous cases, arrivals were numbered and correlated to entering the studio for seating. I figured I’d be in the top bleachers. Yet, somehow, I landed in the front row, inches from Oprah. Her special guest that day was Bishop T.D. Jakes.

He’s the pastor of a non-denominational church called The Potter’s House with over 30,000 members. Some say he’s one of the most influential black leaders in America. He’s certainly influential to me. I record his services and watch them regularly. He’s authored multiple bestselling books and was there promoting his new title, “Instinct: The Power to Unleash Your Inborn Drive.”

            I was selected with a few others for an on-camera illustration he conducted during the taping. You should’ve seen me springboard from my seat when he asked for volunteers. Gleaning from his intuitive lecture on how to use instinct to seize opportunity, I decided to apply it. The taping had concluded and audience members were coming out of their seats to get pictures with him and Oprah. My window was closing but I caught it. “Oprah, I need to say something.” I said faintly.

            She took steps toward me and yelled to the audience. “Everybody. Quiet. She needs to say something,” Then she looked me square in the eye. “What is it?” Oprah said. The entire audience quieted and huddled around us.

            I was thinking of a more private discussion but okay, I went with it.

            I told Oprah and Bishop Jakes that I’d written a book, “Becoming a Mother While Losing My Own.”

I explained, “I’ve been working tirelessly to get it exposure but lack the platform to do so.”  I stretched with opposite hands, putting cards with my book’s information in each of their palms.  “This is me, reaching to touch the hem of your garment.” I said.

It’s a metaphor I took from a Biblical story to express my faith in their capability to do what my labor, time and resources hasn’t. I don’t remember if Oprah responded, but I recall the baritone voice of Bishop Jakes, after a chuckle, “We’ll look into it.” he said. 

According to my girlfriend, the audience applauded for me afterwards. I don’t remember that, I was in a fog. I retreated into my seat while everyone around me took selfies with him and Oprah. I went into the bathroom to collect myself and a lady approached me. “I was really moved by what you just did. You’re going to get your platform, believe me, it's coming.” she said. 

            Harpo Studios may be gone but my last day there will be etched in my memory forever, I had a powerful experience. I haven't heard from Oprah or Bishop Jakes but they proved something to me that day.

If we just muster up the courage to use our voice, the most influential people in the world will use their influence to make sure we get heard. Knowing that leaves me with an exhilarating hope that one day, my life’s story will reach millions.            


I Claudia: Photo finish -- The highs and lows of covering AGT auditions

  • Written by Claudia Parker

Claudia Mug Shot-Color

Working the auditions for “America's Got Talent” elevated my credibility, but only for a spell.

Are you confused?

I was!

The auditions were held Jan. 24-25 at McCormick Place.

I was there for the second day. As I followed the signs leading to registration, I was obstructed by an AGT crew member. “Are you auditioning?” she inquired. I wasn't looking at her. I was testing the operations of my new Nikon D5200 camera lassoed around my neck. I glanced up.

 “I'm a reporter.” I replied. “I'm here to write a story about someone who is.” I pointed toward 14- year-old Kennedy Bordeaux who was standing nearby with her family.

This crew member directed me to a waiting area and then spoke into a walkie-talkie, “Lindsey? Someone get Lindsey. A lady from the press is here!”

Have you heard the saying? “Follow your passion and you'll never work a day in your life.”

Or “Choose a job you love so much, you'd do it for free.”

I believe the unknown author of these statements desire us to find the vehicle that brings our lives fulfillment so we can drive that baby til' the wheels fall off.

For me, one of those vehicles is writing. I've authored a couple of books and have an open relationship with various newspapers and magazines as a freelancer.

But, my main squeeze is The Reporter, where I enjoy being a correspondent reporter and columnist. I'm fortunate to have a boss like Jeff Vorva, who exclusively assigns me inspirational stories to write. However, there's one benefit I'm missing as a correspondent -- a press pass!

Presenting a press pass eradicates the need for individual verification and qualifications.

Unofficial journalists, like me, require separate letters of confirmation from the editorial office to prove legitimacy when covering large venues, which is what was required of me to gain press access to the “America's Got Talent” auditions. Nevertheless, when I got on the premises, I felt like 'special correspondent' Jenna Bush, from “The Today Show.”

AGT gave me my very first PRESS PASS!

It read, “America's Got Talent. The Reporter. Claudia Parker 1/25. PRESS”

Then, I got the rules.

“You can interview and take photographs of anyone except our crew,’’ they said. “Those in blue shirts are our support team, black shirts- are producers. If you need anything, let one of them know and they'll find me.” said Lindsey, an AGT press coordinator.

I went there exclusively to write about Kennedy Bordeaux's audition experience. But since I had my PRESS PASS I figured I'd interview Cris Judd, their official season 10 dance scout.

Judd is a Hollywood Choreographer and former New Zealand's Got Talent judge. In my opinion, he's most known for having been married to Jennifer Lopez.

My request was denied. They said Judd left after Saturday's auditions.

 “But, speak to our publicist about using statements from our press release.” said Lindsey.

I wanted a live interview, not clipped statements from a press release.

“Alright, I'll contact the publicist.” I said disappointingly.

I spoke to two warm and professional publicists on site. I felt we had a connection. I got the impression they were interested in my photography skills. Somewhere within our conversation it was insinuated if I e-mailed them the photos I took from the auditions, they'd be published to the AGT website. I even thought I heard them say, with photo credit!

AGT is one of NBC's top rated realty shows. It has over three million likes on its Facebook page and 357,000 thousand twitter followers. It was a no-brainer. I suddenly christened myself the official, 'unofficial' AGT event photographer.

I worked that room!

I started off asking, “Would you like to be photographed for 'our' AGT website?” Then I'd give a little tap to my press pass.

My reputation began to precede me, at one point, I had a small wait.

Time escaped me.  I intended to be at the auditions two hours but stayed nearly eight. When I got home, sleep was imminent, but not before I downloaded my photos and e-mailed them to the AGT publicist. After all, they'd be expecting my work.


For several days following the auditions, I checked their website looking for the fruits of my labor and nothing!

Upon my inquiry, the counterpart of the publicists' I'd met said, “Uh, yeeeah, there's been a miscommunication. We post articles from journalists to our social media but it's not our usual practice to post their pictures to our official website.”

This is the part where I looked around in confusion with the phone attached to my ear.

“Oh wow!” I responded. “But, I told all those people they could view their photo's on the AGT website!”

I took those pictures for the prospective contestants in the spirit of supporting the event. In doing so, I felt like a part of the AGT team. However, without their platform, the intended audience was lost therefore making the pictures, useless.

What do you do when your time, energy and talent isn't displayed on the stage you expected?

Personally, I analyze my heart’s true intention with the aforementioned statements above. Did I love what I was doing? Did the passion behind my effort bring me a sense of fulfillment? Did I learn something new during the process?

Yes, I did.

Perspicacious-ness is acquired more often through our disappointments than when things go perfectly as planned. For those who've been toiling to share a gift with the world that isn't being recognized, here's my advice, stand and wait. Be immovable! Eventually, someone has to come out of the door you're trying to enter.

Pitchers and catchers have reported and shorts and tulips are on the way

  • Written by Bob Rakow

We’ve endured freezing cold temperatures for several days and continue to look at the snow that fell on Super Bowl Sunday. Face it; winter is getting old real fast. But four magical words help me cope and realize that the frozen tundra won’t last forever: “pitchers and catchers report.”


Cubs and White Sox pitchers and catchers reported last Thursday and Friday, respectively. The rest of the players arrived in camp on Tuesday.


Warm, sunny days in Mesa, Ariz. Plenty of people make vacation plans to attend spring training, but just watching the games on television can take your mind off winter.


If you’re not a big baseball fan, the fact that pitchers and catchers reported to spring training might not mean much. It should, however, because spring training is about much more than just baseball.


The start of spring training signals a new beginning. Spring is around the corner. The temperature may not have reached double digits for a week, but don’t worry, that first warm day will be here soon enough. The snow will melt, there will be long lines at the car wash and you’re bound to see someone wearing shorts.


Sooner or later a tulip will pop out of the ground. If you have young children, it won’t be long before they have their first baseball or softball practice. Have fun with that. It won’t be winter any longer, but standing outside for an hour or two watching kids play baseball takes endurance. Dress like it’s still winter.


I am not a big spring training guy. Wake me up when the regular season begins and the games count.


My dad, on the other hand, loved spring training. He’d watch the televised games not for the outcome, he’d say, but to keep an eye on player development and find out which players were coming north as part of the part of the 25-man roster.


It’s fitting, I suppose, that the Cubs first spring training game will be played on his birthday. He’d be 90 years old. I know he’d be excited about this season more so than most. And with good reason. All Cubs fans are excited.


Still, opening day is not until April 5—38 days away. We can talk spring training story lines all we want, the nationally televised, Sunday night game against the rival St. Louis Cardinals is still a ways off.


So what to do in the meantime?


If you’re a sports fan, there’s plenty on your plate. For instance, there are only 24 games left in the Blackhawks schedule. Half of those contests are on home ice, including tilts with the defending champion L.A. Kings, the surprisingly hot N.Y. Islanders and the rival Vancouver Canucks and St. Louis Blues. The Hawks will make the playoffs, but there’s still a lot to play for. Plus, I love watching all the NHL teams jockey for playoff spots as the season comes to a close.


I’m not a huge Bulls fan, but I follow the team. The storyline for them is much the same as the Blackhawks. They’re all but in the playoffs in a very weak conference, but where they finish will determine whether or not they have home-court advantage in the first round. Again, I love the NBA storylines as teams battle for playoff spots.


Of course, the mega sports event each spring is March Madness—the NCAA college basketball tournament. The tourney is sports at its best because it has all of the elements sports fan love: endless games, drama, upsets and a Cinderella team. Oh how we love the upsets.


Selection Sunday is March 15. Is there anything cooler than watching players from a team that’s on the bubble leap from their chairs in delight when they learn they’ve been selected for the Big Dance? Of course, the selections are immediately followed by debate about which teams got screwed.


Sixty-eight teams make the tournament—there are four play-in games before we arrive at the 64 teams that have been norm since 1985. I remember the tournament having only 32 teams when I started high school and slowly expanding over the years as the networks and the NCAA realized that it was money machine.


Still, it’s widely popular, everyone fills out a bracket and there are often stories about man hours lost at companies as employees spend more time paying attention to scores than doing their jobs.


The Masters begins April 6. I’ll admit there’s real drama on the final day when two or three golfers are battling for the Green Jacket. As far watching the rest of the tournament—or any golf tournament—not interested. But golf fan or not, Augusta National is one of the most beautiful venues in sports with stunning Azaleas blooming everywhere.


You may never get your own backyard to look so good, but you’ll get a chance real soon because spring is on its way.




In the end there were too many hexes with this Lexus

  • Written by Bob Rakow

My Lexus is dead.


It’s been on been on life support for some time now. I only wish I had the good sense to pull the plug several hundred dollars ago.


Can’t say I didn’t think about it, but I always held out hope that the next repair would be the last and that I could drive the car a little while longer.


I enjoyed the car—an RX300 crossover vehicle—and it certainly served its purpose. But when I look back over the three years that I owned the vehicle, it probably wasn’t the best purchase.


I bought it from a private seller, and we negotiated a pretty fair price. After all, the car was more than a decade old when I bought it.  It had a lot of miles on it, to be sure, but high miles aren’t supposed to matter on high-end cars. Maybe, maybe not.


The previous owner was doing a lot of driving for work and wanted something more economical at the fuel pump. But I’ll never forget his wife insisting on a posing for a photo with the car before I drove away. She seemed emotional. It was clear she really loved the car. I took that as a good sign.


These are good, honest people, I thought. I never got the sense that they were relieved to dump the lemon on some poor chump. I don’t think I was sold a lemon, but given the car’s age and mileage, maybe I should have gone in another direction. I’ll admit it; I liked the idea of driving of Lexus—a luxury car.


I’ve driven a Ford Escort, more than one Ford Focus, a Pontiac Grand Am, a Hyundai Sonata and Santa Fe (two of the best vehicles I’ve owned) and a Pontiac Vibe. We briefly owned a van and a Ford Mustang that looked and sounded cool, but presented its fair share of problems until one day the tire came off—while my son was driving the car.


The fact that he was driving back from a turnabout dance with his date and another couple in the car amuses me all these years later. He fails to see the humor.


Luxury wasn’t the only reason we bought the Lexus. My wife and I wanted something to transport my elderly mother. She could easily enter and exit the roomy car with the occasional help of a step stool.


It served that purpose, but when I look back, repair costs added up to the point where they got too close to the cost of the car. Never a good sign. Some were unavoidable—tires, a battery, brakes—things that wear out over time.


But transmission problems raised their ugly head, and I dropped $900 on exhaust work. The trouble is, that repair was done less than three months ago. Had I only known. I already had gotten my money’s worth. It was time to step away.


When the car started to misfire, tremble in neutral and have trouble accelerating, I knew I was looking at even bigger problems. My mechanic warned me about not throwing money at the problem, and he did the small stuff first, thinking he’d get lucky and avoid major work. Twice he appeared to have fixed it, and twice the car crawled back to the shop.


Last week I got the call from my mechanic, who was working with a technician at a local Lexus dealership to determine the latest problem. The catalytic convertor and some other parts were shot. Parts and hours of labor would cost thousands of dollars. That was the death knell.


My original plan was to hang onto the car another year or two.  Let my daughter drive it when she gets her license in the summer. She’s probably relieved.


Now my hope is to sell it as a “mechanic’s special” or for parts. I could always donate it to a veteran’s organizations and get a tax break. Who knows? There are plenty of auto enthusiasts out there who might be interested. I’d like to recoup as much money as I can.


At least the ongoing saga is over. No more phone calls from my mechanic that start with, “Are you sitting down?” I have one less thing to worry about. Then again, I’m in the market for a used car—so if you’re looking to unload a used Lexus.